Wednesday, 20 December 2006

The Palm and How To Grease It

The Economist has a cute little article about corruption that covers the whole thing without taking it too seriously. Personally I'd like a longer article on the language of bribery:
A second type of euphemism dresses up a dodgy payment as a friendly favour done by the bribe-payer. There is plenty of creative scope. Nigerian policemen are known to ask for “a little something for the weekend”. A North African term is “un petit cadeau”, a little gift. Mexican traffic police will suggest that you buy them a refresco, a soft drink, as will Angolan and Mozambican petty officials, who call it a gazoso in Portuguese. A businessman in Iraq told Reuters that although corruption there is quite overt, officials still insist on being given a “good coffee”.

Double meaning can help soothe the awkwardness of bribe-paying. Baksheesh, originally a Persian word now found in many countries of the Middle East, can mean “tip”, “alms” and “bribe”. Swahili-speakers can take advantage of another ambiguous term. In Kenya a machine-gun-wielding guard suggested to a terrified Canadian aid worker: “Perhaps you would like to discuss this over tea?” The young Canadian was relieved: the difficulty could be resolved with some chai, which means both “tea” and “bribe”.

The acceptability of bribes seems also to revolve around whether you can gain anything by the bribery:
Rich Westerners may not think of their societies as plagued by corruption. But the definition of bribery clearly differs from person to person. A New Yorker might pity the third-world businessman who must pay bribes just to keep his shop open. But the same New Yorker would not think twice about slipping the maître d' $50 to sneak into a nice restaurant without a reservation. Poor people the world over are most infuriated by the casual corruption of the elites rather than by the underpaid, “tip”-seeking soldier or functionary.

The conclusion, though, is not supported by the graph shown:
Among the many factors that determine the level of corruption in a country, one stands out. Whether it takes the shape of an American congressman dispensing a $2 trillion budget or a horde of petty officials administering a Bible-sized rulebook, where there is a lot of government, there is a lot of bribery. Corruption thus offers yet another confirmation of the dictum attributed to Thomas Jefferson that "the government is best which governs least."

Actually, the article, and the graph supporting it, seem to show the exact opposite.

(Via The Morning News)

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

It's A Parody, Right?

Ahhh, Comment Is Free, it should really be subtitled "Thought is Less". Seth Freedman illustrates this point with this fascinating insight:
The only thing that separates having sex with a prostitute from rape is a cash transaction.

It's a comment only a stockbroker could make.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Mumbling Through The Middle Eight

No Rock'N'Roll Fun link to a story on how reading lyrics can be difficult so a little literacy can go a long way to avoiding embarrassment at the Karaoke.

XRRF get all the good jokes, but I did like how the government official involved is reffered to as the "Skills minister" as it makes him sound like some kind of hip hop playa. He's got skills to pass the bills!

Mongrel Nation

Apparently Eddie Izzard did a documentary for the Discovery Channel, called Mongrel Nation, a few years ago on how Englishness is a bit of a patchwork of other cultures. You kind find it on YouTube and those kind people over at Making Light have linked to all the bits of it to make it easy for you to find it all.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden wonders if this is a revelation to the English, being American she's aware of how lots of things there have histories in other countries, and I'd say not. We cannot avoid the fact that England's history is one of invasions and those invasions (both of and by) almost always leave their mark on our culture, I feel that many English people are aware of this tapestry even if they are not aware of the extent of it.

UPDATE: Teresa asks in the comments "Why do you think he thought it was worth doing?"

Well, first let me expand on the original point. Here's a view from my Mother's dining room window:

That is Conisbrough Castle, it's a fine example of a Norman keep, it also gets a mention in Ivanhoe. The name Conisbroughis thought to be derived from the name Kyningesburg which is enough like Königsberg to probably be understood in German. Conisbrough is five miles from Doncaster a name with Roman connotations. It is surrounded by many places that have "-by" endings as their name, Denaby and Conanby are right next door, "By" being an old Scandinavian name for village.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that to the even remotely curious there's plenty around to suggest the mongrel nature of England. Even by looking at just a very small part of it. It shouldn't be a revelation to find out that the English are the sum of very many parts.

That said, just because something isn't totally relevatory doesn't mean it isn't fascinating and being aware of the big picture doesn't mean that the details won't surprise you, so there are plenty of reasons for the program to exist. In my eyes it is well worth doing.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Shouldn't This Work Both Ways?

As reported in the Times the British Medical Journal is suggesting that clothes made in larger sizes should carry a tag with an obesity helpline number.


I suggest that clothes in really tiny sizes come with a free sandwich.

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Good Taste In Rings

Via The Morning News comes Regret The Error's "Crunks ’06: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections". The title of this post coming from The Sun's famous non-apology to Ashley Cole which they give "Apology of the Year" to.

It's a very long post, as posts go, but it is worth reading all of it, if only to get to "Most Unfortunate Ad/Edit Placement" which shows a German newspaper that managed to put an article on the history of Auschwitz right next to an advert for a gas company...

The Poor Design Of Everyday Objects

Via Robot Wisdom comes a post on badly designed objects. The initial example is a CD case mostly because they break too easily and when they do break they tend to harm the thing they were supposed to protect.

Personally I have a small antipathy toward pans that have two small handles rather than one big long one, which makes draining pasta either awkward or an experience in burning, steaming or scalding. I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason why you can't get long handled pans in Austria and, no doubt, it'll be due to some notion of safety.

Not related, I'll claim, but Robotwisdom also points to a question overheard in New York:
Female student: I have a question -- what is the plural for 'clitoris'?
Professor: That is a great question.

The answer is given as the title of the post.

Bruce Schneier Doesn't Know What The Deal Is With Monkeys

Actually this piece is a serious look at password usage, but it is lightened up by the last line of the following:
Common Passwords: The top 20 passwords are (in order):

password1, abc123, myspace1, password, blink182, qwerty1, fuckyou, 123abc, baseball1, football1, 123456, soccer, monkey1, liverpool1, princess1, jordan23, slipknot1, superman1, iloveyou1 and monkey.

For those who don't know, Blink 182 is a band. Presumably lots of people use the band's name because it has numbers in its name, and therefore it seems like a good password. The band Slipknot doesn't have any numbers in its name, which explains the 1. The password "jordan23" refers to basketball player Michael Jordan and his number. And, of course, "myspace" and "myspace1" are easy-to-remember passwords for a MySpace account. I don't know what the deal is with monkeys.

Perhaps Ron Gilbert should tell him.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Great Idea

Much like the Star Wars inspirational posters a whiles back the Battlestar Galacticsimpsons which is being linked to all over everywhere and back (well, Making Light and Boing Boing), is a fantastic idea that suffers slightly when you actually see it. To be fair the images capture the Simpsons style excellently —Boomer, Tigh and Dualla, in particular come out very well — but Starbuck is so ugly it sort of stops you in your tracks:

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Play With Kaylee


They do point out the good the about setting an MMORPG in the Firefly universe:
The universe of Firefly and its spinoff film, Serenity, featured everything from Old West-style towns to futuristic urban environments, gritty spaceships and pastoral retreats -- freedom fighters, oppressive government agents, smugglers, outlaws, mercenaries, trader, townsfolk, futuristic geishas and a race of corrupted humans known as the Reavers.

The bad thing, for me anyway, is that it is an MMORPG.

Another Zombie At The Corporate Gangbang

Apparently as part of an effort to keep Cliff Richard in the manner to which he has been accustomed there was an ad in the FT featuring the afore-mentioned Cliff, Pete and Bono. As well as one or two, at least, dead musicians.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Another Whore At The Corporate Gangbang

Peter Gabriel has joined Cliff Richard and U2 in calling for an extension of copyright on sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years. I would have credited Gabriel with more sense, but it seems that the record company has got to him.

Of course, I'm not quite sure why anybody would give a fuck about what U2, an Irish band who pay their taxes in Holland, have to say about British copyright issues.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Casino Royale: A Couple of Things

According to Kung Fu Monkey the standard review is "liked Craig, movie's thirty minutes too long". True enough, I guess, I felt the boating scenes late on did go on a bit, but I figured the reason was to show everybody happy, that they had felt safe and secure for while so that when they have to bring Bond down again you feel it a little more. There was probably a bit too much poker, but I didn't mind that so much. The action sequences had to be longer this time around just to see Bond get bashed around and hurt. So, while it did go on a bit, it's difficult to say what they could have taken out.

I liked how they sprinkled all the bits of Bond lore about even if it was quite obvious and I liked that the music got more Bond-like the more the film went on.

Although this is meant as a reboot I can see how they could go back to the old Bond formula -- I don't think that this was as radical a departure as you might have been led to believe -- straight after this so it'll be interesting to see what they'll do with the next movie. I would like a bit more of the "cold blooded hitman" to be honest.

Still this is probably the first Bond movie I've seen in the cinema since Goldeneye and it left me curious to see more. And if that faint praise is a little damning then I will add that it was a very good Bond movie that hints that there may be a great one soon.

Me 'n' Muddy 'n' McLeod has pictures up of the Blues Bakery Jam Session's 4th Birthday Jam. Obviously it has one or two pics of me:

Speaking of the blues, and I should really give this a separate post, if you get the chance to see Doug McLeod, as I did at the Unta da Lind'n recently, then you should take it. He's absolutely spellbinding on stage, he's got a great voice for blues and storytelling and his guitar playing is superb, and a really top bloke if you get the chance to chat to him.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

All Tom Waits All The Time

Tom Waits doing Day After Tomorrow from Real Gone on The Daily Show.

So That's It!

Making Light link to an article by someone called Bruce Baugh who explains why I don't read any fan newsgroups anymore[1] and why I have the Behind the Sofa crowd filed under "Humour". By humour, of course, I mean comparing the last paragraph of this with this.

[1] made me fear for every season of Angel until I actually got to watch the episodes and it turned out that all of them had been over-analysed to the point where no show could possibly survive. Some fans get a kick out of that I suppose, they're twats.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Reasons I Don't Understand America Part 11

I find their seeming obsession with penguins quite cute. Sometimes, though, it achieves a certain oddness that is quite unexplainable. Take for instance Micheal Medved's review of Happy Feet. There's much about it that's either wrong or muddle-headed, apparently, but the thing that got me was this:
As in so many other recent films, there’s a subtext that appears to plead for endorsement of gay identity. Mumbles (the voice of Elijah Wood) displeases his parents and the leaders of his community because he’s born different, and makes an impassioned plea that he can’t possibly change – and they should accept him as he is.

I haven't seen the movie so it may be wall-to-wall hot man-on-man love action, but surely gays are not the only people who might want other people to accept them for who they are. To use your own homophobia as a rod to beat those asking for acceptance of our differences is totally perverse.

I'm sure there are plenty of kids, or whoever, out their who would like reassurance that whatever marks them out as different is something that will be accepted by right thinking people. They really don't need that reassurance warped by someone else's guilt trip.

Predicting the Future With The Wire

Slate has an interview with David Simon co-writer of The Wire. He comes across as thoughtful and commited to his show. There's an odd bit where he points out that The Wire can sometimes be prophetic:
In Season 2, we said if someone didn't fix the grain pier [a shipping facility on the Baltimore harbor], someone would come along and turn it into condos. At the time it was sitting idle. By the time we were working on Season 3, they had sold it, and now there are condos over there. The bar where we had the stevedores hang out is being remodeled for a yuppie fern joint. We discussed how police officers can juke stats to make it look like crime disappears, and that was a huge issue in the recent election. The same games are always being played.

Another answer shows that some Baltimoreans aren't quite sure whether the show is a documentary or not:
I know that in West Baltimore, Omar can't get to the set, because we have people going nuts. Or Stringer Bell or Prop Joe. The show has an allegiance in that community. That's its own answer—not that it's popular, but that it's credible. I was just on 92Q, the hip-hop station. The call came in with someone who said, why did you kill Stringer Bell when the real Stringer Bell is still alive? And I said, oh, you mean Mr. Reed? I explained that Reed was not the real Stringer, but that we mix and match stories.

Simon also has an interesting take on regular cop shows:
On shows where the arrest matters, where it's about good and evil, punishing crime, the poor and the rich, the suspect exists to exalt the good guys, to make the Sipowiczs and the Pembletons and the Joe Fridays that much more moral, that much more righteous, that much more intellectualized. It's to validate their point of view and the point of view of society. So, you end up with same stilted picture of the underclass. Either they're the salt of earth looking for a break, and not at all responsible, or they're venal and evil and need to be punished. That's a good precedent for creating an alienated America.

The Probable And The Improbable

It seems that every so often a magazine prints an article about how we worry about stuff that has a low probability of happening (getting avian flu, in the example below) as a oppossed to things that might happen (getting common flu). This time it's Time and it is, as usual, worth reading:

Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we'd get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong. We agonize over avian flu, which to date has killed precisely no one in the U.S., but have to be cajoled into getting vaccinated for the common flu, which contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans each year. We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn't) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.